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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9314

Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (19:37): I am honoured to speak about a man I never met but a man I wish I had met. As the only white man ever invited to the Martin Luther King games and with his own day on the US track calendar, it is certainly time we gave much greater recognition in Australia to Peter Norman as a man, an athlete and as a believer in the universal principle of equality. In preparation for this motion, I very much enjoyed reading a lot about Peter Norman and talking with family and friends. I note statements this week from the Australian Olympic Committee and Athletics Australia, and I particularly mention welcome contact from Peter's brother, Laurie, and his coach and the manager of the athletics team, Ray Weinberg. I also note the attendance today of Peter's mother and sister, showing us all that this matters to the Norman family—mostly I hope with pride, but maybe with a little pain following the events of 44 years ago and the journey that Peter went through until his untimely death six years ago.

Firstly, Peter the man. He sounded like good company, a community focused man and a hard worker. He started as an apprentice butcher. I note from what I could see from the famous photo that he still had all 10 fingers. I really liked reading that even after he won a silver medal he returned to play 67 games for West Brunswick football club, even after the Olympic success. As policymakers we wrestle with the community sport versus elite sport issue. Peter Norman provides food for thought, and, as a separate legacy, he is an example not only for elite sportspeople but also for us to think about—it is not an either/or choice; we can achieve both.

Secondly, Peter the athlete. He was fast—very fast. He still has a record time. He was the Aussie champion from 1966-70. I think we are all jealous of how he mastered the art of the fast finish. It is always dangerous to make big cross-generational statements, but Peter Norman would definitely be in the mix for Australia's finest sprinter ever and is already listed by the official AOC historian as one of Australia's finest ever athletes.

I have purposely spoken of the man and the athlete before the moment that has us here tonight. Because without being a fine man, or a fine athlete, the choice and the challenge that were put to Peter Norman in the dressing room following the 200-metre final in 1968 would never have occurred. He earned his right to do something extraordinary, by being a man and an athlete of many skills and talents.

So, thirdly, the podium stand. Peter Norman went to Mexico to run fast for himself, his family and his country. He did. He did not plan or conspire in the events that followed. He was approached by the first- and third-placegetters. At the very moment when he had reached the top of his own sporting challenges, rather than being able to rest and celebrate, he was hit with another challenge. One, thankfully, he gracefully recognised was bigger than sport and more universal than his own celebrations. I put it to all Australians: what if Peter Norman had said no? What if he had shown disgust at the suggestion or shaken his head when the statement by Smith and Carlos was made? In the circumstances, he was a great diplomat as well as a fine athlete. He brought three people and two nations closer together by standing silently and proudly, committing the crime of displaying a borrowed badge.

His words in response to the approach of Carlos and Smith: 'I will stand with you,' are outstanding words in the circumstances immediately following the race and are the timeless legacy that we celebrate tonight. These five words speak as loudly to the challenges of reconciliation in Australia today as they did to racial equality in the US in the late sixties. It is to Peter Norman's eternal credit that he recognised the significance of the moment and rose to his own challenge. I note the words of the member for Bennelong, who mentioned San Jose State University. There is a 23-foot statue at San Jose State University. It has the two Americans there with an empty spot for the silver medallist. When you first hear about it you think: 'The Yanks have done it again and forgotten the Aussie.' But when you read about it more and think about it you realise that it is all about Peter Norman. It is inviting you, the visitor, to stand in the place of Peter Norman, to take up the challenge that he accepted and stand with those seeking the universal principle of racial equality. I say thank you to the member for Fraser for bringing on this motion and, belatedly, thank you to the Norman family for producing a great man, a great athlete and a great diplomat. (Time expired)